When Pharaoh’s horses with his chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the water of the sea back over them. But the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. Then the prophetess Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women came out following her with tambourines and dancing. Miriam sang to them:
Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted;
he has thrown the horse and its rider into the sea.
Then Moses led Israel on from the Red Sea, and they went out to the Wilderness of Shur. They journeyed for three days in the wilderness without finding water. They came to Marah, but they could not drink the water at Marah because it was bitter — that is why it was named Marah.
The people grumbled to Moses, “What are we going to drink?” So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he threw it into the water, the water became drinkable.
The Lord made a statute and ordinance for them at Marah, and he tested them there. He said, “If you will carefully obey the Lord your God, do what is right in his sight, pay attention to his commands, and keep all his statutes, I will not inflict any illnesses on you that I inflicted on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you.”
Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy date palms, and they camped there by the water.
Exodus 15:19-27 (CSB)
Miriam and the rest of the Israelites had already endured so much when they experienced the plagues of Egypt. God saved them from destruction and then from the wrath of the Egyptians at the Red Sea. But instead of pressing on through the desert the moment they crossed the sea, the Israelites stopped to praise the Lord for what He had done for them. Moses, Miriam’s brother, sang a song of praise. Then Miriam picked up a tambourine and led all the women of Israel in dancing and singing.
In that moment when the waters rushed back together, covering the Egyptians and saving the Israelites, only God knew that this was just the beginning of their journey. Moses, Aaron, and Miriam were following God’s leading one day at a time; they had no idea how long they’d be wandering in the desert, seeking God and His promised land. But without realizing that their choices on that day could set a standard for years to come, Moses and Miriam chose to stop their journey and thank God for all He’d done so far. They chose to worship right away, not waiting for a more convenient time or a more comfortable place. They showed the Israelites by their example that worship and gratitude was a priority.
Overwhelmed with thanksgiving and perhaps inspired by her brother’s worship, Miriam led the women, praising God and singing, “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted.” She refused to let the moment pass without praising God for what He had done. His work was magnificent and deserved praise. And by stopping to praise God, Miriam created a precedent in Israel and a lasting memory for the people. When they faced difficulty and doubt in the future, they would be able to look back on that day, remember what God had done, and trust His faithfulness.
Any doubt about the importance of putting worship first was erased just a few days later. Faced with great thirst from walking through the desert and water that wasn’t fit to drink, the Israelites began to complain. How quickly we forget! The Lord had just rescued them from a vicious king who’d enslaved them for years. He had just split open the sea to give them safe passage and then swallowed up the army that followed to capture them. And in the span of less than a week, the Israelites went from thanking God for His provision to whining about their thirst.
Rather than despair of how quick the Israelites were to change their tune at the first new sign of trouble, we can learn from Miriam’s forethought and intentional gratitude. She may not have known how many years of struggle they would face, but she knew they were walking into the wilderness. She probably knew that short or lengthy, their journey would be a hard one and the Israelites would need an anchor to help them recover their thankfulness for God’s faithful work in their lives. What better way to help them remember than a celebration of God’s goodness, complete with singing and dancing and praising Him for what He had done until now?
When our days are full and our lives are busy, it can be easy to move quickly from one challenge to the next. After all, at times it feels like as soon as one problem is solved, another one pops up. Who has time to pause and reflect, to stop and pray? We do.
No matter what trials God has taken us through, we cannot deny His hand in our rescue. We cannot ignore that regardless of our own efforts, we would still be fighting and running and panicking if He hadn’t come through with a supernatural solution. And when He does step in and intervene for us, our next step can only be praising Him! When we recognize His provision and His great love for us, we must express our gratitude. If we wait, instead, for a more convenient time or a more comfortable place, we might never get around to it. And if we don’t make a habit of thanking God for His work in our lives, we might just end up like the Israelites, whining about bitter water and wandering the wilderness for decades.
Let’s be intentional with our gratitude and lead others to praise God with us.